Beavercreek grad to walk 5,000 miles for suicide prevention awareness

Beavercreek native Ben Leininger on the beaches of the East Coast, preparing to walk 5,000 miles across the continental U.S. to raise money for suicide prevention.
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Beavercreek native Ben Leininger on the beaches of the East Coast, preparing to walk 5,000 miles across the continental U.S. to raise money for suicide prevention.

Ben Leininger’s hike spans the United States.

On the morning of Sept. 10, Ben “Shuffle” Leininger laced up his boots on a beach just outside of Boston and started his walk. The 31-year-old Beavercreek native has embarked on a year-long journey across the United States, the first leg of which will raise money for mental health and suicide prevention.

Accepting no rides, and journeying entirely on foot, his route will take him south and west before hopefully ending in Seattle. Leininger estimates the hike will take him 9-12 months, and he hopes to hit cities and landmarks like New York City, the Appalachian Trail, Houston, the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, and Olympic National Park.

“I’m waking up in a new place every single day,” he said. “Usually camping in some trees or off the side of the road. I fool myself into believing there’s a destination but it’s not about the destination. It’s about the meditational practice of walking several miles a day, and it allows me to meet a great depth of people.”

The trek will help Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Active Minds, which works to de-stigmatize mental illness and encourage positive conversation about mental health and suicide, particularly among college students.

“The stories and mission coming out of that organization were so genuine, I thought immediately that was something I could get behind,” Leininger said. “It all fell into place, the stars aligned, and I started the walk on World Suicide Prevention Day.”

Leininger, 31, graduated from Beavercreek High School in 2008. He suffered from depression intermittently throughout his own life, and has friends and partners who have struggled with the same. In his 20s, he discovered bicycle touring as a way to revitalize his own mental health.

“I realized that I could go on long-distance backpacking or cycling trips to really beat my depression, or grab some purpose in my life,” he said.

In 2018, he embarked on his first cross-country trek. He quit his job and sold nearly everything he owned to ride his bicycle 6,000 miles from Seattle to San Jose, Costa Rica. While on that trip, he connected with Latin American families, some of whom welcomed him into their homes for a hot meal and a place to stay.

“I had never experienced anything like that before. In the moment there was nothing I could do to repay them,” Leininger said. “But when I finished, I wanted to step back and give it back to someone else who needs help or anyone in the world that crosses my path. I finished the trip and knew I wanted to do something like that again.”

Leininger is documenting the entire journey on his Instagram, and hopes to pick up more causes to champion over the next several months. In addition, he hopes to inspire others with his journey.

“If it feels like a walk across America is something unreal or overwhelmingly difficult or insurmountable, I’m just a regular person who’s doing this,” Leininger said. “This is just an example of what you can do in your life if you don’t give up on your hopes and dreams.”

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